Diet is one aspect of Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurvedic diets personalize a person’s nutrition based on their tastes, the time of year, and specific health concerns.

Ayurvedic medicine is a traditional Indian medical system. In recent years, it has become popular among alternative health practitioners.

The Ayurvedic diet is not a diet in the traditional sense. Its aim is not weight loss, and there are no specific nutritional plans to follow. Instead, it focuses on healthy, unprocessed foods; overall wellness; and eating for one’s individual health needs.

Ayurvedic practitioners believe that each person has a unique combination of energies, 2021 research reports. These energies are called doshas. According to Ayurveda, illness occurs when a person’s energies are imbalanced — and diet is important for balancing these energies.

However, very few well-controlled studies have directly tested Ayurvedic nutrition and how it affects health.

Read on to learn more about the Ayurvedic diet.

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Ayurvedic medicine emphasizes the role of five elements: air, fire, water, space, and earth.

These elements make up Ayurveda’s three energies, or doshas:

  • Vata: This is a combination of space and air. People with the vata dosha are creative and active, but tire easily.
  • Pitta: This is a combination of fire and water. People of this type are intelligent and temperamental, with a big appetite and healthy digestion.
  • Kapha: This is a combination of earth and water. People of this type tend to have immense stamina and high intelligence.

The Ayurvedic diet emphasizes eating the right food for a person’s dosha.

In addition to diet, Ayurveda also says a person should take other steps to balance their dosha. For example, people with pitta dosha should avoid activities that increase the element of fire.

The Ayurvedic diet is just one aspect of Ayurvedic medicine. Practitioners believe in embracing an entire Ayurvedic lifestyle to realize Ayurveda’s full benefits.

The Ayurvedic diet is not a strict or specific diet plan.

People trying this eating plan seek input from an experienced Ayurvedic practitioner before making nutritional decisions. It is also a good idea to consult a registered dietitian, if possible, especially if an individual has preexisting health conditions.

In general, Ayurveda recommends the following foods for each dosha. It is important to note that these are general guidelines, and people should eat what feels right for them.

Vata dosha

People can try eating warming spices such as pepper, ginger, and cardamom. They should avoid combining too many different types of foods and drink plenty of water.

Additionally, they should avoid foods that increase vata, which include very sweet or pungent foods, such as sour fruits, lettuce, tomatoes, buckwheat, millet, white sugar, and honey. Oily, warm, hot, soft, and liquid foods, such as stews and soups, are considered ideal for this type.

Pitta dosha

People who are high in pitta should avoid most spices, especially chili and pepper. They should also avoid acidic foods like salad dressing, tomatoes, and plain yogurt.

Instead, include foods such as milk, cheese, sweetened yogurt, green vegetables, and grains.

Kapha dosha

Ayurveda says that people who are high in kapha should balance their water element with pungent and bitter foods such as garlic, ginger, peaches, and pears. They should use a variety of spices in their food.

It is important for kapha people to avoid excessively oily and high fat foods, root vegetables, and frozen foods.

Some benefits of Ayurvedic eating include:

  • It encourages a person to think about what they eat, carefully weigh their needs, and make food decisions based on those needs.
  • It may offer similar benefits to other healthy, nutrient-dense diets. For example, a 2021 randomized controlled trial found that an Ayurvedic intervention for irritable bowel syndrome significantly reduced symptoms.
  • It is not a restrictive diet. The focus is not on reducing calories or losing weight, but instead on attaining good overall health.
  • It may help reduce obesity. A 2019 study looked at an Ayurvedic diet and yoga as a tool for weight loss. Six months after the 3-month-long study ended, participants had lost an average of 13 pounds. Importantly, the intervention used not just an Ayurvedic diet, but a holistic Ayurvedic approach.
  • A person may use Ayurvedic eating as part of their spiritual or cultural practices. The diet may be personally meaningful, incentivizing a person to stick with it.

Research into Ayurvedic medicine is limited, and many studies have been small and poorly controlled.

However, people have practiced Ayurveda for centuries, and it is a meaningful cultural practice. It is possible that science has not yet measured Ayurveda’s benefits — or that the benefits are spiritual or cultural, not medical.

Researchers have not documented any specific risks with Ayurvedic nutrition. The dietary options for each energy group include a wide variety of foods.

Plus, the emphasis is on nutritious whole foods rather than processed foods.

Some potential risks include:

  • Using Ayurvedic medicine as a substitute for medical treatment could delay care.
  • Rigid adherence to any specific diet may be triggering for people with a history of eating disorders.
  • Avoiding certain foods can feel difficult, and there is no scientific evidence that avoiding groups of foods based on energetic type offers any specific benefit.
  • Using only some elements of Ayurvedic medicine may be a type of cultural appropriation that ignores the rich spiritual and cultural history of Ayurveda.

The Ayurvedic diet is part of a complex and historic approach to healing.

Adherents usually follow Ayurvedic traditions, and their health practices enmesh with their spirituality. Using Ayurvedic nutrition outside of this context may not offer the same benefits as embracing the entire Ayurvedic philosophy, and it may ignore Ayurveda’s cultural history.

People interested in trying an Ayurvedic diet should talk with an expert practitioner and consult with a doctor or registered dietitian to ensure the eating plan is safe for them.